Lesko Opening Statement at TSA Workforce Hearing

WASHINGTON – Transportation and Maritime Security Subcommittee Ranking Member Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), today delivered the following opening statement at a hearing about TSA workforce.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I am pleased that the Subcommittee is holding this hearing today on important challenges facing the Transportation Security Administration workforce, who serve on the front lines protecting the traveling public from ever present threats to transportation security. I thank TSA for their dedication protecting our nation and people.

As identified in a recent report released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, TSA continues to struggle to provide consistent recruitment, retention, and training at federalized airports across the United States, contributing to the agency’s longstanding attrition and morale challenges. TSA continues to struggle managing its front-line workforce, who are so critical in protecting the public.  The TSA workforce has a demanding job and is truly the most important part of the agency.  As America’s economy continues to grow, unemployment has reached a 50-year low and Americans have more job options, thus a competitive labor market will only add additional challenges to TSA’s efforts to retain personnel.  The agency must double down on progress made towards improving career progression for front-line personnel and making TSA a better place to work.

One possible solution and alternative is for more airports to consider participating in the Screening Partnership Program, otherwise known as SPP.  This program offers airports the opportunity to move from a federalized to a privatized screener workforce that, while still overseen by TSA, is managed by private companies who may be better able to respond to staffing needs.  Notably, during the month-long government shut-down earlier this year, screeners at SPP airports continued to be paid, while federal TSA screeners were not.  To be clear, federal TSA screeners should not have been put in such a position while Congress failed to fund the government; however, airports who are concerned by workforce impacts stemming from Washington may wish to consider participation in SPP as a potential solution.  Some say that SPP takes us back to pre-9/11 style security simply because the screeners are not federal employees.  This false and misleading narrative fails to take into account that SPP airports use the same equipment and same screening procedures as federalized airports and are overseen locally by TSA officials. I am hopeful that Congress can work in a bipartisan manner to ensure the agency is nimble, but also effective and adequately staffed. 

TSA should take into account the results of a recently-completed Blue Ribbon Commission panel on addressing workforce needs, which cautions against moving TSA personnel under Title 5.  Rather, this report recommends that TSA explore a wholesale rethinking of its pay-scale structure and move even further away from a Title 5 model to exercise existing authorities and improve screener pay, performance, and morale.

Recently, over one hundred TSA personnel, mostly from the Federal Air Marshal Service, volunteered in response to a DHS solicitation to help bolster the efforts of Customs and Border Protection along our southern border.  While the title of this hearing references a perceived crisis within the TSA workforce, I am mindful of the very real crisis facing DHS personnel along the border and am grateful to the service of TSA personnel who have volunteered to help their DHS colleagues in their vital homeland security mission.  This underscores more than just the crisis at the border—it also underscores the dedication of our DHS men and women to their homeland security mission. 

That is why we here in Congress must act together to provide the necessary resources and oversight to ensure the TSA workforce is equipped for the challenges of today and the challenges of tomorrow.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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